One of the easiest ways to make your life better is by being thankful. Simple gratitude goes a long way, and according to numerous studies (Psychology Today), being grateful is not only good for your psychological and physical health, but also with your relationships with other people. It seems like common sense that thankfulness would lead to a better life; that the more we express gratitude, the more opportunity we will find to be grateful.
1) The troubles in our lives can lead us to a deeper place of thankfulness
This cycle of thankfulness, however, can be difficult to maintain, especially when we find ourselves in a circumstance in life similar to that of a raging, stormy sea. Life--being the turbulent waters--can be unpredictable, dark, scary, dangerous, and something that we feel powerless against. We can make parallels to all kinds of other things in our life with these traits. And we, being the boat (or being in the boat), are getting tossed around by the sea--which, understandably, can make us feel like we are going to sink (which very well could be a reality).
It seems almost ridiculous to seek out gratitude and a mindset of thankfulness when our boat is being wrecked by a storm. How in the world can I be thankful when I feel like I’m sinking, or about to sink/drown? As contrary as it may seem to the natural order of us humans, especially when faced with destruction--which is self-preservation, panic, fear, despair--we are called to be people of constant and ceaseless thanksgiving.
In the Bible, there is a story about a man named Jonah. Jonah fled from the Lord and His purpose for him, and thus brought about a great, stormy sea in his life. While amidst this turbulent sea, Jonah accepted that it was because of him that it was happening. Jonah knew he was wrong for trying to run away from God and His purpose for him, and in this acceptance, Jonah told the crewmates that he was to blame for the storm. To calm the storm, Jonah told the crewmates that the only way was to cast him into the sea. Eventually they do, and Jonah is both literally and symbolically sinking in the waters of the ocean and of his life.
The story does not end here, however, because God is faithful and His grace abounds. As quickly as Jonah turned his heart back to God, God had already been prepared to save him--in this case, with a big fish. Instead of drowning in the dark depths of the waters, Jonah was swallowed by the fish--a fate many of us would say, “that doesn’t sound much better.” But in the fish, Jonah found deliverance, and in that fish he prayed:
In my distress I called to the LORD, and He answered me. From the belly of Sheol I called for help, and You heard my voice. 3For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current swirled about me; all Your breakers and waves swept over me. 4At this, I said, ‘I have been banished from Your sight; yet I will look once more toward Your holy temple.’ 5The waters engulfed me to take my life; the watery depths closed around me; the seaweed wrapped around my head. 6To the roots of the mountains I descended; the earth beneath me barred me in forever! But You raised my life from the pit, O LORD my God! 7As my life was fading away, I remembered the LORD. My prayer went up to You, to Your holy temple. 8Those who cling to worthless idols forsake His loving devotion. 9But I, with the voice of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to You. I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation is from the LORD!” (Jonah 2:2-9)
After Jonah gave his prayer, “the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:10). It is important to notice that Jonah had a “voice of thanksgiving” before he was out of the fish and onto dry land. And moreover, the immediate verse after Jonah giving thanks to God is him being delivered out of the fish. The funny thing about Jonah being in the fish, is that he never actually left the ocean--he was (technically) in the waters the whole time. All that changed from when he was first cast into the water, to when he was in the belly of the fish for 3 days and nights, was his willingness to follow and trust in God with his life.
It can be extremely difficult to trust in God when we are experiencing the storms in our lives. In Jonah’s case, however, the storm required him to accept his situation, and turn his heart back to God in trust--and in that trust, Jonah found thankfulness in the depths of the waters and in the belly of the fish.
2) There are parallels between Jonah's story and the deliverance offered in Jesus
There are many parallels between Jonah’s story of the storm and the fish, and the story of Jesus and His disciples on the waters in the Gospel of Matthew. In the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples were in a boat in the middle of the sea, being “tossed by the waves” because of powerful winds (Matthew 14:24). After enduring the storm all night, the disciples saw Jesus “in the fourth watch of the night” (Matthew 14:25).
In the timekeeping of the Romans, the day was broken into two 12 hour periods, in which each period was broken into four watches. The first watch began at six o’clock in the evening and ended at nine o’clock in the evening; and the second watch being the next three hours and so forth... and continued to the fourth watch, which was 3am-6am the next morning. With this in consideration, Jesus came to the disciples on the water sometime between three and six o’clock in the morning.
An interesting part of Matthew's Gospel to consider is the time in which Jesus appears to the disciples. The disciples left in their boat in the evening immediately after Jesus fed the multitudes. Considering this, the disciples began their little voyage in the first watch of the night--it takes until the fourth watch for Jesus to appear to them. With Jonah, he spent three days and three nights in the fish, and on the fourth day he was delivered. The same is with the disciples: for three watches they suffered the storm, and on the fourth watch they saw Jesus.
Along with this, Jesus was doing the inconceivable by walking to the disciples on the raging waters. And it is in this environment that Peter calls out to Jesus and says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to You on the water,” in which Jesus says, “Come” (Matthew 14:29). And so, out of faith, Peter goes out of the boat and begins walking on the water to get to Jesus. To leave the boat represents stepping out of our own sense of security, safety, and comfort zone, and instead, choosing to trust in Christ.
There is a great parallel here with Jonah, who also left the boat and accepted God’s will for his life. And where Jonah was saved by God after trusting in Him, Peter was saved as well even when he began to doubt, “But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid: and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:30-31). Similar to what happened to Jonah, Peter cries out to God while amidst the waters. Jesus then saves him, and after Jesus saves him they get back into the boat and the storm has stopped.
Something important to consider: Peter stepped out onto the stormy waters in faith first, and was saved by Jesus and had the storm calmed second. It is clear between both stories that when we trust in God, His way is greater than the storm; He is Lord over it. He walks on the stormy seas, and controls the fish in it’s waters to serve His purposes--both literally and figuratively. But in the storm we have the opportunity to look to God for strength, and receive a power beyond our own capabilities.
With Jonah, he was humbled in the fish, and because of the humility and faith he found there, he praised God with a voice of thanksgiving despite his circumstance. With Peter, he stepped out in faith when he left the boat and began walking to Jesus. Peter’s faith in God kept him atop the water, but his doubt because of the storm eventually overcame him and made him sink. And in Peter’s lacking, Christ’s power was made evident, in which Jesus immediately saved Peter when he called on Him. The verse following Peter’s deliverance involves the entire boat--and I am sure Peter included--worshipping Jesus; something interwoven with a posture of gratitude.
3) The root of thankfulness is in the heart
We see in both Jonah and Peter the whole point of thankfulness, and it is something greater than merely overcoming a storm at sea. In both people, the root of thankfulness was grown out of the heart, and it was in their hearts that God knew He had to work. With Jonah, despite being in a fish (which sounds very gnarly), God brought his heart to a place where--no matter what situation or circumstance he might find himself in--he could thank God for saving him. Not for saving him out of his situation of the storm and the fish--for we know he was spit out of the fish after he had already been giving thanks (though God still did eventually save him from the situation)--but saving him from the real storm that lied in his heart.
The same can be seen with Peter. Where Peter first stepped out in faith, his doubt gradually overcame his ability to keep his eyes on the Savior. And it was in Peter sinking that he realized how small and powerless against the storm he really was; while at the same time, how capable Jesus was of overcoming it when He saved him. In both Jonah’s and Peter’s case, the root of their failures lie in their hearts and their lack of trust. But God knows we can be “of little faith”--why else would He have come down to save us?
It is in the realization that God is the ultimate provider and has already provided all that we need to overcome the storms in our lives, that moves us into a deeper place of thankfulness. God has overcome death, sin, and the world, through the sacrifice He made at the Cross. Christ suffered and died by humanity’s hands, but after three days and nights He rose in all power and authority with the keys of Hell in His hand. This is why the Bible is riddled with giving thanks, and why it must be so embedded into the minds of Christ’s followers (and all people) to be people of gratitude: that we did not deserve the grace we were given, but have been given access to the fountain of life despite that. And it is God’s love in this, and in our hearts, that moves us into constant thankfulness: “Rejoice at all times. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
As great as the holiday of Thanksgiving is, it cannot--and should not--be the only time we are giving thanks. It is from the standpoint of thankfulness that leads us into a deeper knowledge of the blessings we have been given. And it is amidst these blessings that we begin to grow in appreciation for the blessing Giver, and realize that He has given us the greatest gift and promise we could ever receive: the forgiveness and love of a good God.
If you are not already doing it, maybe use this Thanksgiving to make an effort to sincerely thank God a little more than usual--or even for the first time in your life. If you have made it this far in reading, God is moving in your heart, and the same work that was being done in Jonah and Peter is being done in you. The choice is yours whether you will seek and trust in Him, or turn your heart away and weather the storm on your own. Jesus Christ has the power to calm all storms. And if we choose to let Him help us, we will see the goodness of the Lord--and thankfulness will be the only expression we will know to give Him.